If you’re sending out lots of resumes without getting many calls for interviews, it’s time to conclude that your resume isn’t doing its job. If you’re like most people, you’re making at least a few of these mistakes—which will put your resume promptly in the “no” pile.
1. It’s generic. If your resume reads just like dozens of other candidates’, no employer is going to call you. Your resume needs to convey that you’re an exceptional candidate, not just an average one who’s no different from other applicants. Which leads us to…
2. It just lists duties and responsibilities, not accomplishments. In a job market that’s flooded with candidates, a resume that reads like a series of job descriptions won’t excite a hiring manager. What will excite a hiring manager is a resume that shows a track record of achievement, so you need to list specific accomplishments, not just duties.
3. It’s full of dense paragraphs rather than bulleted lists. Employers will only skim your resume initially, not read it word-for-word, and large blocks of text are hard to skim. An employer will take in more information about you if you use simple bulleted points.
4. It leads with your education, even though you’ve been out of school for more than a few years. Generally, your education should go beneath your work experience, because employers are most interested in what work experience you’ve had. Leading with your education just buries what will make you most attractive to an employer.
5. It doesn’t include the dates of employment for each job you’ve held. Employers want to know how long you were at each job and when. Resumes without clear dates are an immediate red flag that make hiring managers suspect you’re hiding something.
6. It wastes space on things that are irrelevant, like descriptions of your employer’s business. Some candidates devote two to three lines per job to describing the employer itself—its size and the nature of its business. Hiring managers might want that information when you move to the interview stage, but your resume isn’t the place for it. Your resume should focus on you and you alone.
7. It’s not specific. Employers want concrete specifics. It’s not enough to say that you “revitalized” a department or “publicized” a program. What exactly did you do and what did it result in?
8. It includes everything you’ve ever done, rather than just the highlights. The longer your resume is, the less likely an employer is to see the parts you want them to see. The initial scan of your resume is about 20 seconds—do you want that divided among three pages, or do you want it focused on the most important things you want to convey? Short and concise means that employers are more likely to read the parts you most care about.
9. It includes irrelevant details, such as your age or your children’s names. Yes, people really do this. Employers don’t care about these details, and including them will come across as naive and unprofessional.
10. It describes you in subjective terms. Your resume is for experience and accomplishments only. It’s not the place for subjective traits, like “great leadership skills,” “strong writer,” or “creative innovator.” Hiring managers generally ignore anything subjective that an applicant writes about herself, because so many people’s self-assessments are wildly inaccurate; they’re looking for provable facts. If you have those traits, list the accomplishments that demonstrate them instead.
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She’s also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager’s Guide to Getting Results, and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.